Isle of Lewis Chess Set, Black and Ivory Stone Resin
This lot features a rather unusual figural chess set, the Isle of Lewis Chess Set, cast in black and ivory stone resin. The tallest piece, the King, stands 3.8″ tall with a 1.9″ base long. The chessmen are naturally heavy and rest atop felt base pads. The pieces were likely manufactured in China and are housed in a black leatherette hinge-top box lined in lavender velvet. These chessmen will require a chessboard with 2-1/4″ squares. A complete selection of our fine vintage and modern chessboards can be found here.
The Lewis Chessmen are the most important chess pieces in history. Ever since the ivory pieces were discovered sometime before 1831 on the Isle of Lewis in Scotland’s Outer Hebrides, these kings, queens, knights, rooks, bishops, and pawns carved from walrus tusk and whale tooth have long fascinated us due to their exquisite craftsmanship, unusually evocative faces, and strikingly Norse character.
Today 82 of the 93 known pieces are in the British Museum, and the remaining 11 are at the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh. Despite their fame, some key details about them remain unknown. Here are 12 facts we recently learned about the Viking ivory chessman. Most are found in Nancy Marie Brown’s new book Ivory Vikings: The Mystery of the Most Famous Chessmen in the World and the Woman Who Made Them, which draws upon Icelandic sagas, archaeology, history, and forensics to locate the chessman in a time in history when the Norse ruled the North Atlantic.